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A Long-Distance Relationship

© Mehmet Dilsiz | Dreamstime.com

Parents often find it hard to let go of a child who’s heading to college. They realize there is a fine line between helpful and hovering, but after all, they are investing big money into their child’s future. So why not have some influence?

Although there are extremes—like the parents who installed a “nanny cam” on their son’s computer to watch his every move—the average mother or father simply wants to stay in touch with and support their child.

Seventy-four percent of parents communicate two or three times a week with children at college, and 34 percent are in touch daily, according to a recent survey by College Parents of America. Nine out of 10 parents said that they attended parent orientation and 75 percent visited campus once or twice a semester.

“Technology has shrunk the world,” says Beverly Low, dean of first-year students at Colgate University in Hamilton. “The challenge is that even if you and your child communicated regularly at home, they now have a whole new world opened up before them.”

She suggests establishing standards for communicating ahead of time, whether it’s a weekly phone call or daily text message. Electronic communications can help parents stay in touch while respecting children’s privacy.

“For a student who is a bit homesick, that weekly phone call can give them something to look forward to,” Low says. But checking in too often doesn’t give the student enough time to reflect on and work out her own problems. And a parent who insists on too much contact with a child at school can make keeping in touch a chore.

“Establishing open lines of communications begins when your child is in middle school and continues on through high school,” says Low. “Creating a trusting atmosphere, having dinner together and discussing tough topics like alcohol and drug use, body image issues, and relationships before there is a crisis helps to build honesty into your relationship.”

My daughter Rachel, a senior at SUNY Geneseo, calls me two or three times some days. She wants to tell me something exciting or disappointing about her day. When I hear things have gone wrong, my first thought is to step in and help her solve the problem, but I try instead to ask her how she plans to handle the issue herself. A parent’s being a sounding board is different from taking care of the problem.

For less communicative kids, here are some ways to stay connected:

• Set a time for a weekly phone call that works for both of you. Don’t expect to call them early on a Saturday morning and have a casual conversation.

• Get tech savvy. College students have grown up with texting, instant messaging and e-mail. Rather than write off such methods as too impersonal, cherish those opportunities to stay in touch in a different way.

• Listen with an open mind. Offer gentle guidance, but don’t criticize or give ultimatums. Your child will share less and less if he doesn’t feel you trust him.

• Don’t hover. You may want your college student to communicate with you more than she does, but insisting on it won’t help. Explain your reasons for wanting to hear from her and then be supportive when she does call.

• Use snail mail occasionally. While your child may view it as quaint and charming, a letter, postcard or care package will help him see that you care without being “in his face” all the time.

Allowing your child to experience the ups and downs of life as well as teaching her to handle her own problems will guarantee she has the skills to make good decisions—even when her parents are not around.             

The Helicopter Parent…

… introduces her child to other children at the park
… wants his child to attend the same college he attended
… pushes her child into activities she always wanted to try
… completes projects his child gives up on
… calls the teacher when her child brings home a less-than-ideal grade

The Supportive Parent…

… discusses with her children where to go for playtime
… encourages his child to reach out to other children without interfering
… talks with her children to plan weekday meals
… hears both sides of a disagreement and encourages kids to work together to find a solution
… teaches about choices and consequences, then allows his child to learn from mistakes


© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York